One of the most efficient early growth tools I’ve used is Refollow for Twitter. For those that aren’t familiar with it, Refollow allows you to find and follow/unfollow a selection Twitter users. The most common strategy is to follow a bunch of people in your area and then unfollow those that don’t follow you back a couple days later.
It’s based on the psychological idea of reciprocation, meaning that people will feel like they should follow you back if you follow them first. The major risk is that it plays in a grey zone in Twitter’s Terms of Service, so you can’t go crazy with the follows and unfollows, but a slow and steady approach (~200 follows & unfollows a day with a 10-20% conversion rate) usually works really well.
At first I thought it was a little sleazy to follow people in bulk. I’d been told by a couple startups that I should use Refollow, but avoided it since I thought it would make my account look spammy. But after struggling with growth for my previous startup GooseChase, I decided to give it a go for my new company Tripzaar, using both the company’s account and my own Twitter account.
After about a month and a half of using it, I’m sold. Apart from the obvious increase in Twitter followers (100 to 1350 in that time for Tripzaar, 475 to 1750 for me), there’s been a couple side benefits as well.
- Our early sign-up page gets 5-10 signups on days I use Refollow. On days I don’t, we’re lucky to get 1 or 2.
- Having more followers means we get more engagement with travel links we Tweet. To give a rough metric, a month ago, we’d get an average of one retweet per five articles. Now we’ve almost doubled that to once every couple of articles. By no means are these mind-blowing numbers, but it’s a slow and steady improvement.
- We’ve started to build up a small community of travellers we can talk to. We’ve already received a few feature requests from people who got what we’re trying to do and wanted to let us know what they would find useful. We wouldn’t have found these people without following them on Twitter.
One of the hardest things when you’re starting is finding those initial people who will be willing to try out your new service. Using something like Refollow is a great way to find them. We’re definitely more connected with the traveller community as a result. And ironically, instead of it being a one-sided ploy to get more users like I thought it would, the whole community benefits when you participate. In my opinion, it’s a net-win for everyone and is something most startups should play around with.
For such a valuable community building tool, I’m surprised no one really talks about it. I suppose no one wants to admit that they use a tool to follow people en masse, but when you look at how many accounts have huge numbers of people they’re following, it’s clearly not a secret.
What I’m curious about is, other than Refollow, what are alternative ways to get early momentum?